Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Wheat Harvest

by Shanna Hatfield

As I watched the golden waves of wheat down the road from us cut down during the harvest recently, it made me think about how much equipment and processes have evolved and improved over the years.

Back in the early 1900s, Umatilla County (where my Pendleton Petticoats series is set) produced approximately one percent of the nation’s wheat crop. Wheat harvest brought workers to town, provided income for families, and proved to be an event many looked forward to all year. It was also a lot of hot, sweaty, backbreaking work. From my childhood spent on a farm, I can declare from firsthand experience the dusty, itchy chaff makes the air thick and hard to breathe and clings to ever pore on your skin.

I can only imagine it was ten-times worse back in the good ol' days.
Taken in 1902 in Walla Walla, WA, this photo shows not only the machine, but also the deep dip in the hill as well. Wheat fields in this part of the country are often planted on rolling hills.
32 mules
This photo, from the oldoregonphotos.com, shows a team of 32 pulling a hillside harvester in 1900. Because of the rolling hills, the farmers needed a machine that wouldn’t tip over on steep inclines.
Combine drawn by 26 head of mules and horses in a field of Feder
It took a large number of horses or mules to pull the heavy equipment, especially up the hills.
My dad comes from a long line of farmers, and also spent several years after he and my mother were newly wed working in Umatilla County in the 1950s. He had firsthand experience with the terrain, the hillside harvesters, and even told me why so many of the farmers preferred mules to horses (because the mules could go all day without a problem and the horses often got sores or sick.)
In addition to providing descriptions of the equipment, he told me the names of some of the jobs involved with wheat harvest. The jigger sewed the sacks of wheat shut once they were filled. The tender made sure the cutter was going where it was supposed to while the skinner drove the team.

Quite different from today's air-conditioned combines.

After spending her formative years on a farm in eastern Oregon, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield turns her rural experiences into sweet historical and contemporary romances filled with sarcasm, humor, and hunky heroes.
When this USA Today bestselling author isn’t writing or covertly hiding decadent chocolate from the other occupants of her home, Shanna hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.
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Kristy McCaffrey said...

Gosh. I never imagined it was so much work back then. Thanks for sharing, Shanna.

Shanna Hatfield said...

It was quite a process, Kristy. And just as much work for the women feeding all the men! :)

Kathy Heare Watts said...

What a fascinating article and piece of history. Our daughter in law's family are farmers in North Dakota and have multiple fancy pieces of machinery that does the work, most are GPS controlled, with a way to determine what the soil requires for fertilizers, etc.

I loved the video to see it all in motion. That is a lot of teamwork on the part of not only the men but the horses/mules.